OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Richel

Globe (Detail)
2009
Gouache on paper
5 ft x 5 ft

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your interview with Little Paper Planes you mention a compulsion to make work and the meditative experience of painting. Repetitive tasks can be both soothing and monotonous. They can engage your mind or they can free it. In general, what do you think about while you paint cupcakes and presidents over and over again?

Justin Richel: If all is going well while in the act of painting, I am thinking of only line, color and the emotional response. It’s a very interesting and blissful place for the mind to be.

OPP: How does your experience of repeatedly drawing similar objects shift over time?

JR: I usually have a specific image or sense of a particular painting or piece that I set out to create in my mind’s eye before hand, but through the process of translating that idea or wisp of an idea, from a thought to the physical paper, I am always a bit disappointed by the outcome. I feel that with each remaking of a particular idea, the message becomes more clear for me, as though I am able to communicate my idea more clearly with each attempt; understanding my own motivations through the repetition of the imagery. It also gives the image a life of sorts; you see it evolve over time.

When I was at Maine College of Art my major was in printmaking. I never really liked the process of printing very much. I felt that it was too limiting and often monotonous as well as a very dirty process. A lot of energy was expended with the only real benefit being that you can produce multiples of the same image. However, through the print making process, I realized the strength of the multiple. Images, if they are successful, do proliferate either by a cultural embrace or by the interests of a few, they are integrated and bent, changed and imposed upon, and I think it is this phenomenon that urges me to revisit these compositions again and again, manipulating and changing them to suit my own needs. In a sense creating my own iconography.  

Whirling Dervish (Detail)
2011
Gouache on cut paper, nails, adhesive
5.5 ft x 10.5 ft  

 OPP: You have many pieces titled Whirling Dervish, the first one a drawing in 2008 and the most recent your installation of gouache on cut paper at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in 2011. Then there’s Debacle (2011), a wall drawing you did for the DeCordova Museum, which puts the viewer inside the whirling dervish. How does the shift in scale and media change the meaning of the imagery?

JR:  I have actually been working with most of these themes since the early 2000s and continue to find the rehashing of subjects and compositions completely engaging. I’ve found that the small work draws you in, engaging the viewers’ imaginations, encouraging them to lean in for a closer look, and allowing them to revel in all the fun details. The large work consumes the viewer wrapping them in the imagery. Most people find the miniature works very cute and whimsical, which they are. But there are darker undertones embedded in the work that I really want to be seen and understood.

With the larger work my hope is to dwarf the viewers sense of self with the compositions so that the audience feels like a part of the piece.

OPP: Do you see any of these as more successful than the others, in terms of communicating with your audience?

JR:  So far I think that through the use of various sizes and approach, the work’s message is communicated more clearly, each painting or installation telling a bit more of the story. As of late I am most excited about creating the installation works. They provide me with an opportunity to create an image that just isn’t possible in the confines of my tiny studio. The installation works are composed of hundreds of tiny parts and pieces that allow me to change the overall composition, keeping it a fresh exploration through each evolution. 

Precarious
2008
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OP: The theme of precariousness is very present in your works, as depicted in the columns and unstable piles of sweets, household goods, presidents’ heads and birds. You’ve written in your project statement: "The stack can only exist so long as all of its pieces are cooperating together, to shift or remove a piece would inevitably send the whole thing crashing to the ground." But, because your main medium is painting, you can endlessly stack objects in more impossibly complex ways without any real danger. You hold the viewer in an endless state of expectation of collapse. Do you have any interest in addressing what happens after the balance is actually lost, when things come crashing down?

Justin Richel: No, not so much. I think it is much more interesting to play with tension—I like creating that suspense and having the viewer’s own imagination complete the story. My hope is that the work communicates the sense that through cooperation of disparate parts and pieces acting as infrastructure, this odd stack or structure is able to exist. Just looking at the structure of present day society, it becomes very clear how precarious things really are. There is a real feeling that you have to hold up your end of the bargain. I think everyone is afraid of what might happen when it all falls apart and you don’t want it to happen on your watch. So we keep adding to and building the “system” so that it holds up, even as it falls apart during the process.

Died For Want Of Lobster Sauce
2010
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OPP: Looking at your various projects together, I see a strong sense of the interconnectedness of nature, culture, and the personal. Just like with the stacked furniture and sweets, nature and culture are precariously intertwined in our lives. You’ve worked simultaneously on the series Sweets and the series Big Wigs over the last few years. Could you talk about the differences between these two series, as well as how they inform each other? 

Justin Richel: The Sweets series is concerned with society as a whole: its behavior, its morality and constructions, the general state of things.

I like to think of the sweets and household detritus as characters or stand in for the figure, humans, and their relationships to one another. Creating scenarios that speak to the fragility of circumstance and the consequence of actions. I like to imagine them as functioning, dysfunctional infrastructures.

The Big Wigs are more concerned with those who are in power and, in contrast, the resiliency of nature. Quoting my project statement:  “These men sit rigid and firm in their positions of power and deeply entrenched in their glory, so much so that they essentially become living “monuments” of their own making. Meanwhile nature takes its course, birds move into their wigs, fungus and lichen grow on them freely and fires threaten to engulf them. All the while they struggle to save face and maintain their proud and victorious posture, ignoring their surroundings and the ensuing predicaments.”

I get a certain amount of pleasure creating the Wig paintings. They’re about the idea that if anything sits still long enough, nature will take root and treat that object as though it was simply landscape, a foothold, claiming or re-claiming the space as it’s own. I find the regenerative process of nature very comforting. It takes care of itself of it’s own volition. It’s a feeling of security and trust and one of relief. Nature’s design is one of perfect balance. In contrast, our own brand of design leaves so much lacking; not everyone is represented or even figured into the equation. Nature is both simultaneously finite and infinite.

It is necessary for me to have the two distinct series as a way of communicating this complex relationship.

OPP: What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows or new directions for your work?

JR:  Well, for 2012 so far I have a solo show at Galerie Voss in Düsseldorf, Germany (TBD) and a group exhibition, curated by Natalie Larson, at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. And in the spring my fiancé Shannon Rankin and I will have a two person show at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland, ME.

Justin Richel has also recently released a beautiful print through The Endangered Species Print Project, which is sponsored by OtherPeoplesPixels. 100% of the proceeds from Justin's print support the endangered Guam Micronesian Kingfisher depicted in his charming work.

To view more of Justinʼs work visit justinrichel.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Molly Schafer

Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me
2008
Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper
60" x 48"

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think the concept of “going feral” shapes your work? It seems to factor into a number of your works dating back to your 2006 video Centaurides, in which a computer modified child—like voice shares her fantastical observations and dreams; most of which involve a desire to break—free from the mundane, civilized, or unjust.

Molly Schafer: Yes exactly!  “Going feral” is my out to the mundane daily human life.  As I see it back in the day we had it all—tons of time outside, traveling around with the seasons, NOT MULTITASKING, self-reliance, physical strength and endurance, being in the moment and more connected to nature/each other/other animals/Earth/the universe… and then we decided to live in dark, dirty cities buy stuff from stores and sit in offices all day. Blah who wants that? Well it turns out lots of people do. And the idea of “going feral” becomes threatening to society. Perhaps it partially represents everyone’s underlying longing for freedom and/or fear of that desire.

Feral is a term referring to a domesticated creature that has returned to a semi-wild state. In a way, a hybrid state of being—not truly wild, no longer domesticated. I related that to the work I was doing with lady centaurs, themselves a hybrid of woman and horse.

While in graduate school I received feedback that people had trouble relating to the centaurs since they didn’t reflect their own human bodies (unimaginative, no?) so I decided to take that wildness and hybridity I depicted through the physical body of the centaur into a fully human body having gone feral. A major influence on this work is my first entry point into this theme: young adult novels featuring a girl who has isolated herself from society, lives in the wild with an animal companion.

I have had a life-long desire to live in one of those narratives, and I do realize it is slightly silly but I am sincere in that longing. My journey to and stay on Asseateague Island with my cat was my attempt to access a bit of that world. The trip resulted in a body of work Dawn Horse. The drawings in that work reflect the iconic images on the cover of such novels, often the only image in the whole book, their function is to only tell part of the story.

Clan of the Cave Girl (We went feral y'all)
2009
Graphite & watercolor on paper
20" x 20"

OPP: Hearing a child-like voice narrate Centaurides makes me curious about what you liked to draw as a child. What were your early sketchbooks like?

MS: Ha. Yes they weren’t too different from now. Animals, girls/women. More penguins (I was into penguins way before it was cool). My brother and I grew up drawing while we watched TV. Our parents were/are artists.

My junior high sketchbooks featured pencil drawings of awesome punk girls playing guitar. Lots of piercings, Mohawk hairdos, Tribe 8 shirts, L7 tattoos. The boys I knew were into drawing dragons, wizards and punk dudes. They always had trouble getting that we were into the same things. The gender difference or concept/awareness of gender (dragons vs unicorns) was so huge they couldn’t see past it. Not to mention they were intimidated by my skills. Lame.

Ha ha.

I dunno I’ve always liked drawing mice. I guess I’ve always fell somewhere between Beatrix Potter and fantasy novel art. Which may explain my limited successes.

Still From Barrier Island
2007
digital video

OPP: Your arctic-looking house cat plays a prominent role in your video from your Barrier Island series. In reviewing images from your subsequent solo show, Dawn Horse, at Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC, I noticed at least three other pieces that include visual references to your cat; one that even lists “my cat's fur” in the material list. Can you speak about the role your cat plays in your artmaking? Where does your house cat fit in your work’s relationship to real and imagined animals like centaurs what you describe as “similar hybrids”?

MS: Well I’m glad someone is reading my detailed descriptions of media. Yes that is my boo. His name is Sid and he has been my dawg for 18 years now. I’ve always tried to let him be a cat and as wild as he wants to be.

Once I took Sid to hang out in a park in Pennsylvania (where we both were born and raised) after an hour or so of us just chillin in some woods he started loosing control. He ran around, ate some rabbit poop and got this crazy look in his eye—shiny and wild, like he didn’t recognize me. There are moments—the realization there is no leash and he can run far, when he is at the top of the tree and is considering leaving me—when I dare say he is hearing the call of the wild. Those moments were fascinating and frightening. I related to them and was inspired by that to make this work.

As I mentioned earlier I wanted to live like the characters in my favorite novels—Reindeer Moon, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins. These characters all had a faithful friend/sidekick who was a non—human animal. I had Sid. And I wanted to see how feral he would go. So we went to Assateague Island to get weird.

Also I mainly make my objects out of whatever I have around with a nod to the materials used by and usefulness of the characters in those novels. Often they validate the killing of animals by using all of it’s parts. I don’t really kill anything for parts but do want animal parts in my work. Sid has plenty of fur to spare. And he and I are linked in a way that it adds meaning and magic to work parts of us into objects.

OPP: Your drawings of animals, centaurs and similar hybrids are often incredibly detailed. What kind of research goes into creating each piece?

MS: Hmm looking at books— field guides, pony guides, Equus Magazine. Reading about how their parts work. I also spent time with and photographed my aunt’s horses. Observing creatures in the wild or growing up around them helps. Just getting to know them. Repeatedly sketching. Honestly I have one trick that I think works best but I consider it a trade secret. Let’s just call it “becoming animal” because I like phrases that sound like the cover of hilarious fantasy novels.

Endangered Species Print Project

OPP: Your own art practice is hybrid in nature. You maintain an individual art practice exhibiting your work widely but also operate outside of the gallery system using your artistic talents to directly support conservation efforts and biodiversity as the co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Let’s talk about what ESPP is, how it got started, and how it relates to your work as an individual artist.

MS: Sure. The Endangered Species Print Project, according my collaborator Jenny Kendler, is our brain-love child. We both have strong feelings about conserving biodiversity on this planet.  We had been fumbling around looking for a way to use our artistic talents and skills to benefit a cause we cared about and to make an impact. ESPP is our best version of those efforts. ESPP sells limited-edition prints of critically endangered species. Prints are editioned to reflect the remaining population count of the species depicted. For example, there are only 37 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats remaining in the wild. So only 37 prints of my drawing of this bat will ever be made. Currently 100% of the proceeds from print sales are donated to a conservation organization working to conserve the species on the front lines.

When we started it was only Jenny and me. We have grown to include many guest artists, a blog, and an ESPP extended family which includes artist Christopher Reiger, OtherPeople’sPixels, who sponsors the project, Michael Czerepak of the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Service Bureau who masterfully prints our work (and who asked me to marry him), and P.O.V. Evolving in Los Angeles, who handle our large print orders. Our work would not be possible without the help of the conservationists and organizations that we partner with nor without the many people who buy ESPP prints!

How it relates to my work as an individual artist? Well, for awhile it has taken over most of my studio time! Jenny and I do ESPP in our spare time. It quiets questions that may interrupt my concentration while drawing like “Why didn’t I go back to school for mammology instead of studio arts?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing something less selfish than this?”

OPP: What are you working on now?

MS: I’m in one of those stages were I am doing lots of little stuff, working up to the next big thing. So I’m slowly working on some books, maybe they fall into the graphic novel category with the chimp hybrid women I was drawing a few years back, I still have a few paintings to make to round out the Dawn Horse work. I’m also working on a collaborative project with artist and pal Tory Wright. I’ve collected a bunch of video and text to make a new narrated video, but at the moment I’m planning the piece to incorporate a good amount of hand drawn animation so I predict this will be a years long project. I’m fascinated/jealous of large predators so I collect pics of them on my blog Megafauna .

I’m moving into a new studio soon so I’m looking forward to that!  Honestly, I’m designing my wedding invitation. Is that lame? So far it features an eagle, a hawk, a peacock, a fox, a bear, a badger and a hare. I think someone else but I’m not sure. Oh! That’s right a slow loris.

To view more of Molly Schafer’s work visit mollyschafer.com.